Sunday, March 10, 2013

Needs, Wants, Justice, Discipline, Power and Love

Those concepts have been poking their shoots up through the disturbed soil of my consciousness frequently of late. The needs and wants dichotomy spurred on by moments spent with Gandhi's autobiography, wherein he shares his own wrestling match with this challenge and with my own increasing realization we live on a finite planet with a growing population experiencing growing inequality. If we look in even the slightest way critically at our culture's bombardment of  advertising, we can't miss the point of it is targeted at changing our perceived 'wants' into 'needs'. That we need the product, service, or experience to be happier or more fulfilled.

Gandhi's popular aphorism that 'The world has enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed' comes to mind. Gandhi was indeed a unique individual. Few of us humans have the combination of worldview, discipline, and sense of personal and moral strength that he developed over his lifetime. His autobiography written twenty years preceding his assassination unveils many of his internal wrestling matches, his failures, as well as his seeming ability for self-discipline. He also demanded very high standards for his family and associates to meet. Some of which he later regretted. His power to withstand outside forces and to stand strong against them was likely founded on his own power to control his own consciousness. This he exercised frequently with diet, sex, and learning. It appears that indeed his vigilant attempt to improve himself (as he perceived what needed improving) gave birth to an emergent strength in dealing with the outside world.

One can surely make an argument that if everyone lived like Gandhi, the planetary systems we rely on would not be unraveling like they are and that we could satisfy the basic needs of many more than we share this spinning sphere with currently.

David Miller, noted British political philosopher, addresses our responsibilities to the injustices in the world in his recent book National Responsibility and Global Justice. Miller argues that there is both a personal responsibility and a national responsibility to respond to 'what do we owe to the world's poor'? Without having poured through the whole book yet he appears to believe that while both levels of responsibility exist for us as citizens in this world of growing inequality, perhaps there is more responsibility at the nation state level that we should put our energies into. Thus pressuring our governments to change the rules of the game to root out the causes of that inequality and extreme poverty.

In the introduction to his recent book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, Adam Kahane quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. final book that calls to that same magic potion of power and love.

Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change. . . . And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites— polar opposites— so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What [we need to realize is] that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. . . . It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.” —Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?

This merger of power and love must, it seems to me as I write this, emerge from explorations of reflection and discipline. The reflections cannot simply be constructed from the rational logic of a highly disciplined mind and technique. They may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. My sense is that they must also emerge from a deep connection to the heart.

Our dominant education system and economic system have removed the heart from the equations. I suspect that is why even though US GDP has written steadily since WWII, but our level of happiness (and of heart health by the way) has declined. If we are to reverse this trajectory, we will need to bring the heart back to a full partner in our future. And that heart must be open not only to other humans, but the entire community of life. My own momentary reflection has me convinced this begins with some strengthening exercises of the kind that come from the practice of self discipline. Bad habits are hard to overcome. I'll try again today.

Meanwhile I've added Kahane's book to my reading list in hopes that it can steer me to 'The Theory and Practice of Social Change' more effectively.  If the 18 minute version of his October 2012 talk for RSA Animates "How to Change the Future" is any indication, he has much wisdom to share as we create our future together. Onward...